Designing social housing that could be adapted in future for use by the physically impaired? Consider the five Ss
With an ageing population and more disabled people living in the community, social housing is increasingly being designed to accommodate future use by the physically impaired. Adaptable housing has been implemented in the UK through the Lifetime Homes concept introduced by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing Corporation Scheme Development Standards.

1 - Site

  • Access to the building should be via short continuous accessible travel paths from the street frontage and vehicle parking to the dwelling entry.
  • The laundry should have an accessible path to the clothes-line.
  • Public and common areas of the site and building should be accessible to handicapped persons via easy-access stairs and wheelchair-accessible lifts.
  • Letterboxes for estates should be located centrally next to the street entry – and lockable.
  • There should be at least 6 x 3.8 m of car parking.

2 - Structure

  • Bathroom walls should have grab rails in the shower. Toilet walls should also have provision for grab rails: reinforcement should be provided in the walls between 300 mm and 1500 mm above the floor.
  • Walls to be demolished as part of planned adaptation should be non-loadbearing.

3 - Skin

  • Entrances should be covered, illuminated, accessible and level (maximum 1:40 slope), with a 15 mm maximum threshold and a landing for wheelchair manoeuvrability. Entrance doors should have an 850 mm minimum clear width.
  • Living room windows should begin within 800 mm of floor level. Windows should be operable by wheelchair users.

4 - Services

  • Electrical and environmental controls should be accessible by wheelchair users. The living and dining room telephone should be next to the power outlet. Kitchen power outlets should be suitable for disabled users, with at least one outlet within 300 mm of the front of the work surface. The outlet for the refrigerator should be easily reached when the refrigerator is in place. The laundry power outlet should be double.
  • Taps should be accessible by wheelchair users. The kitchen taps should have capstan, lever handles or lever mixer, located within 300 mm of the front of the sink. Bathroom taps should be capstan or lever handle with single outlet, and a thermostatic mixing valve. Shower taps should be easily reached from the access side of the shower door.
  • Walls to be demolished as part of planned adaptation should be free of electrical and plumbing services.
  • Provide 300 lux minimum illumination level to the living and dining room.
  • The kitchen sink should be adjustable between 750 mm and 850 mm high, or replaceable, with a bowl of 150 mm maximum depth. Kitchen cooktops should have front or side controls and raised crossbars, and an isolating switch.
  • In the bathroom, provide for a washbasin with wheelchair clearances. Also provide for a hoist from a main bedroom to a bathroom.

5 - Space

  • Submit drawings showing the housing unit in pre-adaptation and post-adaptation stages.
  • At least one storey in a block of flats should be accessible without steps. Within the dwelling, do not provide steps (unrealistic in the UK), and allow only minimal level changes. Provide for a stair lift and a through-the-floor lift.
  • Internal doors should have 820 mm minimum clear width. Provide for wheelchair door approaches. Corridors should provide accessible routes into and through the dwelling, with 1000 mm minimum clear width.
  • In the living and dining room, provide for a circulation space of a minimum of 2250 mm in diameter. Locate the living room at entrance level.
  • The main bedroom should be big enough for a queen-size bed, wardrobe and wheelchair circulation space. Provide a convenient bed space at entrance level of two-plus storey dwellings.
  • The kitchen should have manoeuvring space for a wheelchair, with 1550 mm minimum clearance between benches (2.7 m minimum overall width). Provide for wheelchair circulation at doors. The kitchen layout should have the refrigerator next to a work surface, the cooktop next to an 800 mm long work surface at the same height, and the oven next to an adjustable or replaceable work surface.
  • The bathroom should have manoeuvring space for a wheelchair, with wheelchair access to fixtures. The shower recess should be 1160 x 1100 mm minimum, and waterproof, with no hob and a recessed soap holder.
  • Locate a toilet in the entrance storey or principal storey of the dwelling. Provide for manoeuvring space for wheelchair. Make it visitable, or accessible in dwellings of three or more bedrooms, by disabled users.
  • The laundry should be accessible to wheelchair users after adaptation, with wheelchair circulation at doors. Provide for adequate circulation in front of or beside appliance (1550 mm minimum depth).


AS 4299 (1995) Adaptable housing, Standards Australia. BS 8300 (2001) Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people — Code of practice, BSI. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1998) Approved Document M: Access and facilities for disabled people, The Stationery Office. Goldsmith, S. (1986) ‘The gestation of ‘X’ housing’, Design for Special Needs 39 (6-8). Lifetime Homes:

This checklist transcends the requirements in Part M, which simply requires “reasonable provision” to be made for access to and use of the building by disabled people, and “reasonable provision” of sanitary conveniences in the entrance storey or principal storey of the dwelling. The Approved Document goes into more detail, of course, and is set to be replaced by an even more substantial document based on BS 8300, in 2004.